Who will defend the tall ships ferryboat cruise?

by DG Martin

‘ Is anyone going to say something in defense of giving elected officials the kind of special treatment some of them got at the tall ships event off the coast near Beaufort earlier this month?

It is much safer to jump on the bandwagon and attack every occasion public officials enjoy hospitality at the expense of taxpayers or somebody who wants something from the taxpayers.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported on its front pages that a state-owned ferryboat had been taken off its regular route and used to host a group of government VIPs and their guests at the tall ships event at a cost to the state of thousands of dollars.

So far, nobody has jumped up to defend the folks who made these arrangements.

Nobody in the government chain of command has come forward to explain what was going on or to defend their tall ships promotion and entertainment program.

Well, if nobody else is going to step up to the plate, maybe I ought to give it a try.

Here is what I would say:

“When there is an opportunity to create or enhance an event that could bring favorable attention to North Carolina, state government should provide encouragement. When appropriate, it should try to give reasonable support to events like the tall ships visit.

“One reasonable way to support a gathering of ships would be for the state to send one of its own big ships to make an appearance. Since the state does not have a navy, sending one of the largest ferryboats was a good way to boost the event and show state support.

“In addition, participating in the tall ships event gave an opportunity to showcase and advertise the state’s ferry service. Arguably, the cost effectiveness of participation in the tall ships was greater than the ferry service’s normal paid advertising program.”

Even if you agree with me so far, I bet you want to ask me how I would explain spending so much money to entertain the elected officials and their guests.

Here goes:

“Having the state’s elected officials at an event like the tall ships is an important way to show support and to demonstrate to the event’s sponsors that the event is important to the state and its government.

“Getting legislators to give up their weekends at home in order to show up at important events far from their homes is a challenge. If you want important people to attend, you have to make it something special. Once the ferryboat was going to be there, it made good sense to use it to persuade a good number of elected officials to attend.

“It does not make sense to criticize the elected officials who showed up. And it is not fair to them. If anything negative is said, it ought to be directed at those important officials who did not support the tall ships event by their attendance.

“When the state helped host the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight a few years ago, nobody criticized President Bush for the free ticket and the special attention he got when he attended. Nor was there any criticism for the VIP treatment given elected officials and other people whose attendance was important as a part of the event’s success.

“Maybe the tall ships event is not in the same league as the Wright Brothers anniversary celebration. But the success of each was good for North Carolina.

“And the next time a community has a similar opportunity to organize an activity that could attract positive national or worldwide attention, I hope the recent experience at tall ships will not keep the state from supporting it. And if attendance by elected officials is important to the event’s success, I hope that somebody will give them VIP treatment.”

Maybe you do not agree with me about this. But you see that there is a case that could have been made, don’t you?

So why didn’t somebody in state government give it a try?

I wish somebody had tried. A debate, rather than a simple default, would have been useful.